How many times have you heard someone ask, “how do you balance work and family time?” Personally, I’ve never heard anyone say, “I am spending too much time with my family and not getting any work done.” It is, in my experience, always  the other way around.

The real question should be: how do you get your work done and spend quality time with your family? 

That is what most of us struggle with. And it really doesn’t matter what your work is defined as. It isn’t unique to ministry. Most people with a hard work ethic struggle with this. Admittedly, ministry doesn’t necessarily fall into defined hours…but to be honest, a lot of other jobs don’t either. Ask a business owner. 

Here are a few principles or perspectives I have learned from people who are really good at managing this tension.

These are not the only two competitors

Maybe family time is lacking because of Fox News, Netflix, golf, or the device you are reading this on. The reality is that God gave you a family and a calling. He doesn’t give us more priorities than we can handle. But we can give ourselves more priorities than we can handle.

Define work time

Expectations are hard to hit if you don’t know what they are. When it is time to work…it’s time to work. I limit the calls, texts, and distractions. On the other hand, my wife and I strive to make sure that our kids don’t equate some areas of care and serving as “work”. Some of what I do, is what Christians do for their church regardless if a paycheck is attached. Be careful about defining everything “church” related as work.

Define family time

What exactly is family time? You may be surprised to find that it is not as complex as you thought. Define this as a family. If your spouse thinks it’s playing board games, you think it is watching a movie together, and your kids think it’s wrestling then you have a problem… or you are going to be very busy.

Be careful about your boundaries

As soon as I say that you need to draw boundaries, I will swing to the other side to say…be careful about how hard you draw them. The harder you draw a distinction on these two priorities, the more evident the breech is when they overlap. Be careful about making these two distinct yards with a fence in between. Involve your kids in your ministry and make your ministry life apart of what you are as a family. 

Side note: We try to never say, “dad has to go to church”…It seems minor, but it matters to us. It is a blessing to be in ministry and we want our kids to see this as a blessing, not something we have to do or they are stuck sharing me with.

Be quick to point out the blessings too

Our family is in ministry and there are blessings and difficulties. We try to remind our kids of both and that, in reality, this is true of everyone. We also try to point out the hardships of others jobs and callings to keep it in perspective. 

“See how Suzy’s dad is a police officer? Police have schedules that are really tough and she may not see her dad for a few days at a time. We should pray for Suzy, that must be hard for her…” This reminds our kids (and us) to stop making it about us. 

Listen to your spouse

My wife can tell when the kids need more of me, and when she needs more of me. A date night, a family night, maybe an afternoon with one of the kids. Whatever it is, it builds respect for your spouse’s opinion and releases the grip of jealousy in their heart when they don’t have to compete for your time.

Pray about seasons

There are seasons when things get lopsided—they have to. A long-term perspective sees it for what it is and comes up with a plan for compensation. Pray about what the next best step is and discuss it together. Come up with an actual plan. 

The Bible says, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency”. 1 Cor 7:5. While this may refer to marriage intimacy, the principle holds true for families as well. 

Don’t defraud each other except when you agree together and set a timeline. For our marriage and family we have been here dozens of times. Whether it is taking college classes, a new ministry, or a goal that needs to be accomplished (or more likely all of those at the same time!), we always finish by agreeing on an end date. 

If the goal isn’t accomplished, or the task completed by the agreed time, we come back to the table and decide where to go from there. Needs can go unmet for a season when the end is in sight. It is when needs go unmet and there is no hope of it changing, that things get dangerous and fragile.

Talk to people who get it right

Be warned, it is like asking “experts” how to lose weight—if you ask 10 people you will get 15 different answers! However, you will find some commonalities in all of them. Asking the questions helps you identify blind spots and discover things that work for you!

Your team wants the same thing

Here is a big reality that people miss: your pastor wants you to be relationally healthy. Your team wants you to be relationally healthy. If you aren’t healthy, you’re a mess. You could lose both your family and ministry. 

Your pastor is not at war with your family! There have been times where I have felt like I have to choose between the two—but I imposed this on myself. 

Many times just talking with my pastor (and boss) about the tension has created a solution that is best for both! Be careful about pitting your pastor and spouse against each other. That is not biblical or fair. Realize these compliment each other and be honest when one needs to take a pause for the other. 

One of my best friends said to me once, “your boss won’t notice if you work five minutes longer, but your family will.” Close up shop and go home when it is time to go home. Be there for your family, be fully engaged in your calling, and remember that you are the only one who can lead and love your family.

Will you ever get this just right? Probably not on this side of heaven. Can you grow in it? Yes. And your family will respect you for it. As my pastor often says…“this is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve.”